No Tool Is The Right Tool

You can’t accept yourself on purpose. It is utter nonsense to imagine that this could be possible; it is nonsense to imagine that we can accept ourselves on purpose because anything we do ‘on purpose’ always involves two things – it always involves ‘the thing that we want’ and ‘the thing that we don’t want’. For there to be a goal there must also be a ‘not-goal’ – purposefulness wouldn’t work otherwise! How could we have ‘a goal’ without also having something that is not the goal, something that has to be rejected or gotten rid of as being ‘unwanted’ or ‘undesired’? There can be no ‘right’ without ‘wrong’…

 

When we try to accept ourselves on purpose therefore we find that we are always ‘rejecting’ to the same extent that we are ‘accepting’. There’s a paradox here in other words – if I am to accept myself then I must ‘reject the me that is unaccepting of itself’, as Alan Watts says, and this means that my act of deliberate acceptance is also an act of rejection, an act of denial, an act of raw aggression. I am ‘resisting my resistance’!

 

All purposeful acts have this dual nature of involving acceptance and non-acceptance, wanting and not wanting, liking and disliking – that’s how purposefulness works, as we have just said. That’s how goals work – there is a bias there, a prejudice there, an agenda there. That is what a goal (or a ‘purpose’) IS after all – it’s a bias, it’s a prejudice, it’s an agenda. This might sound so obvious as to be not worth mentioning but it is worth mentioning because we are all so convinced that we ought to be able to accept ourselves on purpose – we think that self-acceptance can be turned into a goal for the rational mind, in other words!

 

The rational mind can do many jobs but this is not one of them! It is a peculiarity of our Western rational culture that we think that the thinking mind should be able to do all jobs, including the jobs that involve changing how we feel about ourselves (or how we feel generally). But what would the thinking mind know about that – the thinking mind doesn’t feel anything! Our situation is like that of the carpenter who has only one tool (i.e. a hammer) and who therefore thinks that everything must be a nail!

 

Where this metaphor falls down here however is that – in this particular case – all tools are the wrong tool! It’s not as if we have to put the hammer back into the tool kit and pull out the screwdriver or the chisel or the handsaw instead! All tools are the wrong tool because tools are always about goals, always about agendas. When we use a tool we always have a positive orientation towards the ‘right outcome’ and a negative orientation towards the ‘wrong outcome’. ‘Accepting ourselves’ CAN’T be made into a goal, as we have already said – that would mean that there is a ‘right outcome’ and a ‘wrong outcome’ and when we are fixated upon not getting the wrong outcome (as we are bound to be when we have a goal in mind) then we are rejecting; we are ‘flexing the muscle of rejection in the name of acceptance’, which is of course utterly ridiculous.

 

There can’t be any straining towards acceptance – ‘straining’ means that we are ‘rejecting where we are’ and ‘trying to get somewhere different’ and there’s nothing very ‘accepting’ about that! Straining (or trying) is always about rejection, it is always about resistance, and this is precisely what we seem to find so very hard to understand. The idea of striving (or trying) to accept a situation (or ourselves) is an example of our complete lack of insight, our certain lack of psychological understanding as a culture. The problem is however that we simply don’t know what else to do. We are ‘at a loss’ and we can’t help feeling that it is better to do something than it is to ‘do nothing’, even if ‘doing something’ doesn’t actually work…

 

We do have other resources apart from the rational purposeful mind however – we just don’t know about them. We have another, much more powerful resource at our disposal and this is a ‘resource’ that is quite different from the fixing/analysing machine that is the thinking mind. What we are talking about here is our capacity to attend to (or be aware of) what is going on in the present moment. This happens to be a very underrated capacity – more than just underrated, this capacity of ours is something that we simply have no comprehension of it all. There’s nothing there for us to grasp hold of, nothing there for us to logically understand or prove. As we read in Chapter 3 of the Dao de Jing,

Hold aloft the Great Image,

The whole world will go to it…

Dao, when it is uttered by the mouth,

Is so bland that it has no flavour

When looked at, it is invisible,

When listened to, it is inaudible,

When in use, it is an inexhaustible.

The ‘Great Image’ is that which we can readily understand (i.e., in psychological terms, ‘a method’ or ‘a strategy’) whilst the Dao is precisely what we can never understand. We go with the thing we can understand therefore even though it doesn’t work. We go with it ‘by default’, we go with it because we don’t believe in anything else  – or rather the thinking mind doesn’t! The thinking mind only believes in control. ‘Attending to what is going on in the present moment’, on the other hand, does not involve controlling (or trying to control) what is going on. If we are trying to control it then how can we ‘attend’ to it? We are too caught up in our futile attempts to change it then – the evaluating or judging eye can never see truly. When we try to change what’s going on then we are inevitably distancing ourselves from it and it is our ‘trying’ (or our ‘striving’) that is creating this distance. Our trying actually IS the distance. There are fixing / analysing mind always creates distance therefore – no matter what it does it will always create distance and it is this distance stands in the way of genuine change. It is this ‘distance’ that jinxes us every time….

 

‘Attending to what is going on’ has nothing to do with ‘acceptance’ in the usual sense of the word therefore. Instead of trying – in a perfectly futile way – to accept ourselves all that is needed is for us to attend to ourselves. We aren’t trying to change anything here – there no question of us trying to be different in any way, no question of us either accepting or rejecting anything. There’s no right or wrong way – we are simply relating to ourselves as we happen to be, whatever way we happen to be. No one is saying that we have to like ourselves either – it’s a lot simpler, a lot more essential than that. We are not being called upon to like ourselves – it’s not about liking or disliking – all of that is irrelevant. We’re not projecting anything on the situation, that’s not needed.

 

Our instinct probably tells us that there is nothing to be gained from this simple ‘attending’. The idea of ‘attending to ourselves’ generally seems pointless, fruitless. But the ‘point’ is that when we relate to ourselves in this very direct, very simple way then we are utilising that capacity that we don’t know we have, that capacity that we do not value or appreciate at all. In Daoist terms, we are drawing upon the power of the Dao, the power of ‘the natural way of things’. We are drawing upon the power of the Dao because we are not trying to change anything, because we’re not trying to gain anything. The whole world is busy trying to gain something but we’re not. We are not falling into that trap!

 

Another way of putting this is to say that by not trying to accept anything (anything in particular that is) we have actually accepted Everything. We have got rid of all friction. We have ‘accepted everything’ without intending to, without meaning to, without making it our aim or agenda to. We have ‘accepted everything’ in this very simple way, just by ‘attending’ to it. If don’t like myself, if I hate myself, then I don’t object to this (or in any way resist it), I simply see that this is the case!

 

It’s easy to see that ‘this is the case’ – it’s easy because it actually IS the case! Nothing needs to be changed. I don’t need to object to my non-acceptance of myself because I haven’t got any agenda going. I’m only in the business of ‘attending’ and there is no straining or resisting in attending. I’m not trying to ‘rise above myself’ in any way. I’m not trying to pull myself up into the air by my own shoelaces. And if I see that I am trying to change myself (if I see that I am trying to pull myself into the air by my own shoelaces) then that too is simply ‘how I am’ and there is no need to change that either. As we have said, I’m in the business of attending, not manipulating, not controlling, not judging. When I see that I am resisting what’s going on then that is just ‘how I am’ and so that is simply something else for me to attend to. It’s not ‘a problem to be fixed’ by the fixing mind!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When We Accept Ourselves We Are Free

When we completely accept ourselves as we actually are (in a conscious way rather than an unconscious ‘taking-ourselves-for-granted’ type of a way) then we become free.

 

It’s not quite right to say this of course – we don’t become free, we discover that we were always free, as the mystics never tire of telling us. We learn of our freedom, which we were previously too obtuse (or too ‘crude’, too ‘crass’ in our perceptions) to see.

 

This is of course counter to conventional thinking, which states that we can only become free by engaging in ‘special types of activity’, special types of goal-orientated activity. Engaging in GO activity is of course very antithesis of ‘acceptance’ and so what this means is that our conventional approach to things is the antithesis of the ‘subtle’ approach that we are talking about here.

 

The ‘subtle approach’ is too subtle! It’s far too subtle for us to get. In the normal run of things, we couldn’t get it in a month of Sundays! We couldn’t get it in a year of Sundays – assuming that we had that long available to us. We are forever looking in the wrong direction; we are forever looking in the direction that thought tells us to look in, which is the direction of ‘improvement’ on the one hand and ‘disimprovement’ on the other. That’s all thought cares about after all; that’s all it can care about – either ‘getting close to the goal’ or ‘getting further away from the goal’. It cares positively one way, and negatively the other. It likes one and dislikes the other. It would be silly of us to expect otherwise since thought – by its very nature – can only ever concern itself with ‘abstract ideals’. We only need to reflect on this for a moment or two to see that this has to be true – how could thought ever possibly concern itself with something that is not an ‘abstract ideal’?

 

Appreciating things what they are in their essence is not the thinking mind’s job! The TM’s brief is to deal with the practicalities, the particularities, the technicalities of life. It’s not built to function as a philosopher – it’s not designed for ‘looking into the ultimate essence of things’. Where’s the practicality in that, anyway? The answer, as we all know, is that there is no practicality in this – there is no practicality in philosophy, no practicality in taking an interest in the ultimate nature of things. On the other hand, if we take no interest in the ultimate nature of things, if we devote ourselves entirely to the practicalities of life, and go helplessly along with the TM like some kind of camp follower, then before long life becomes unbearable. Life becomes intolerably arid when we make ourselves oblivious to the ultimate nature or essence of things.

 

This is – of course – the nature of the dilemma that we find ourselves in: either we take an interest in how things actually are in themselves (which we are averse to since we have absolutely no idea where this will take us and we don’t want to risk it) or we roundly ignore that side of things and concern ourselves wholly with the practical/technical side of life, which means that we will get stuck in the rational purposeful version of life, which is a version that suffers from the profound disadvantage of being completely arid, completely sterile. Our ‘resolution’ to this dilemma is to opt for the rational simulation of life and then use a kind of ‘trick’ in order to ameliorate the suffering that comes with this option. The trick in question is simply that we keep repeatedly utilising the rational-purposeful mechanism in order to distract ourselves from the present reality of our situation.

 

We don’t pay wholehearted attention to the present moment therefore, but rather we look ahead to some ‘improvement’ that is going to be made. This is our ‘gimmick’ in a nutshell. This is what ‘goals’ or ‘purposes’ are, needless to say – they are ‘improvements to our present situation’! When we think ahead about the improvement that is to come, then straightaway we feel better. Of course we feel better – why wouldn’t we? All we need to do in order to distract ourselves is therefore to think of some improvement that can be made and this in itself will usually make us feel better! The next thing to do is to work out some strategy to bring the improvement in question about, and then work away at implementing the strategy. The motivation to do this comes – of course – from the good feeling that is going to come our way when we successfully bring about the improvement. The euphoria we feel as a result of simply thinking about the improvement is merely a small loan or down-payment taken on the strength of the future improvement coming to pass, so how much better will the actual realisation of our goal causes to feel? The prospect of this satisfaction-to-come is more than enough to motivate us to engage enthusiastically in the strategy.

 

This isn’t to say that strategies of goals are always ‘gimmicks’ to help us avoid the aridity of the present moment, when that so-called- ‘present moment’ exists solely in the rational simulation of life, but rather that it is possible for us to use goals and strategies in this way, for us to use purposefulness in this way. The more legitimate the goal, the better it is for ‘exploiting’ as a way of living in the future rather than the present, when the present (or rather the ‘simulation of the present’) is not a place that we want to be in! So when we talk about ‘being interested in the ultimate essence or nature of things’, this is just another way of talking about ‘unconditionally accepting ourselves as we actually are’. First off, we could observe that this is going to be no benefit to us in purely practical terms since, as we have already said, taking an interest in things as they actually are in themselves doesn’t necessarily help us when it comes to engaging in whatever tasks it is that we are supposed to be focusing on. This is why when employees practice meditation at work this isn’t necessarily good for the corporation they work for since they are very likely to realize that the work in question is meaningless, if not actually detrimental to all concerned! But before we even get to ‘see ourselves as we actually are’ what we going to see is of course ‘ourselves as we are represented within the terms of the rational simulation’, which is another way of saying that the first thing we’ll see is our ‘idea’ or ‘image’ of ourselves, which may or may not be to our liking. Because the ‘mental idea of our self’ exists solely within the remit of the rational simulation (i.e. within the domain of the rational mind) it is always subject to judgement from that mind, be that judgement positive or be it negative. So although we hear a lot of talk about ‘accepting ourselves’ and ‘not judging ourselves’ this can only happen when we know are no longer operating from within the rational simulation (i.e. when we are observing things from outside the rational domain) and this is easier said than done!

 

When we are operating in the rational mode then there is absolutely no question of us ‘not judging ourselves’, there is absolutely no possibility of us ‘accepting ourselves’, and it is crucially important for us to understand this! All we can ever do (in this case) is ‘judge ourselves’, either positively or negatively, and then ‘react to ourselves’ accordingly! We are simply not free to ‘accept ourselves’ therefore and it would be absurd for us to try to force ourselves to do so! There is no freedom in ‘forcing’ after all, and if there is no freedom then there can be no ‘acceptance’. The freedom we do have however is the freedom to see that we have no freedom, the freedom to see the truth, which is that all we can do is ‘judge ourselves either positively and negatively and mechanically react accordingly’. This is the difference between ‘being conscious’ and ‘being unconscious’ in a nutshell – when we see that we have zero freedom to ‘not judge’ or ‘not react mechanically’ then we are conscious, and when we do not see this (which is most of the time if not all) then we are unconscious.

 

Spelling this out this allows us to see something very interesting – it allows us to see that we can actually ‘accept’ ourselves completely being completely non-accepting, that we can wholeheartedly accept the fact that we are completely judgemental and intolerant! ‘Acceptance’ as a subtler thing than we tend to think it is, as we have already said – it has nothing to do with ‘like and dislike’, ‘approval and disapproval’ and – as a result – it has nothing to do with any choices that we might make. This last point is something that we usually have the greatest difficulty in understanding; we persist in imagining that ‘acceptance’ is something that can come about by choice when nothing could be further from the truth. ‘Choosing’ runs on bias – there’s nothing else it could run on after all. There is nothing else it could run on because if we didn’t have some sort of bias there then how we know what to choose? Unless we have some kind of ‘like and dislike’ to draw upon to aid us in our decision then how could we possibly make a choice? Choice is a mechanical kind of thing after all – it’s something we do via the rational or thinking mind. We could of course object to this and say that we are making a decision on the basis of knowledge, not on the basis of subjective preference. We could say that we are choosing a particular option because it is the ‘right’ option to choose not because ‘we like it’. This argument doesn’t hold water however – how did we obtain our so-called knowledge other than by the exercise of bias, other than by the exercise of inherent prejudice? Whatever way of looking at the world we have, we must have ‘bought into it’ at some stage and the reason we ‘bought into it’ was because of our bias towards doing so, our predisposition to doing so. Ultimately, we always choose how we see the world, we can’t (in other words) claim the unquestionable right to see things a particular way!

 

When we say that we choose a particular option because ‘it is the right one, not because we like it’, then we are obviously ignoring the fact that we ‘like’ the right option more than the wrong one! The two concepts of ‘right’ and ‘the act of passing judgement’ can’t be separated and ‘the act of passing judgement’ – no matter what we may believe to the contrary – always comes out of ‘like and dislike’, always comes out of ‘bias’. If I say that something is right then this simply means that I have judged it to be so. Unconditional acceptance, therefore, has nothing to do with any choices that we might make, or any preferences that we might have on the matter. ‘Acceptance’ has absolutely nothing to do with bias and for this reason it has absolutely nothing to do with the thinking mind (since the thinking mind is nothing else than a collection of biases)

 

Just to repeat our key point here – acceptance is at far more profound thing than we always think it is! Acceptance comes out of consciousness, not the thinking mind, which is always superficial. When I see that I don’t have the freedom ‘not to judge’, or ‘not to react’ (to go back to our earlier point) then I am accepting that I have no freedom. This – as we have said – is not a choice. ‘Accepting’, in this more profound sense of the word means ‘seeing the truth of something’ and seeing the truth of something is never a choice. It is quite choiceless, as Krishnamurti says. If seeing were a choice then we would be in control of what it what is true or not, which would clearly be absurd! Seeing isn’t something that can ever happen on the basis of our biases, our preferences, our prejudices; if it did then it wouldn’t be seeing that we are talking about but rather ‘the automatic projection of our own conditioned viewpoints onto the world’. What we would be talking about, in other words, is the perfectly ubiquitous state of unconsciousness and so to use the word ‘seeing’ in this connection would be  completely inappropriate.

 

If we come back to our original statement now we will find that we are in a much better position to appreciate what is meant by it. When we accept ourselves as we actually are going then this means that we are not trying to change ourselves, not trying to control ourselves, and it is because we are not trying to change or control ourselves that we are free! In our normal (rational) mode of being we are always trying to control/change ourselves – we can never stop controlling (or trying to control). As we have said, everything that exists within the ‘rational domain (or, as we have also called it, the ‘rational simulation of life’) has to be controlled – the possibility of not being controlled doesn’t (and can’t) exist within this context. This is a ‘controlled’ (or ‘defined’) reality – unless something is a hundred percent defined it can’t exist in this realm; unless something is completely regulated then it can’t be accommodated within the ‘mind-created virtual reality’, and this is just another way of saying nothing can happen within the domain of the rational mind without it being judged, one way or another. The rational mind IS judging, after all!

 

We are inclined to say that we are ‘accepting ourselves’ when what we really mean is that we have judged ourselves in favourable way, but this (needless to say) doesn’t count because it is an unconscious sort of a thing, completely unlike the  conscious acceptance which we are talking about in this discussion. As we have just said, conscious acceptance has nothing to do with like or dislike, approval or disapproval, right or wrong. Crucially, seeing ourselves in an unbiased way is the same thing as ‘not identifying with the regulated or controlled mental image which is the self-concept’. When we are identified with the self-concept – this arbitrary construct of the mind – then there can never be any freedom for us. Freedom is not possible for the self-concept, as we can very clearly see when we aren’t 100% identified with it! When we are identified with the self-concept (when we look at the world exclusively ‘through its eyes’, so to speak) then this is the very last thing that we going to see. More than ‘the very last thing’, it’s actually the thing we shall never see.

 

Not seeing that freedom is an impossibility for us, we are going to put all of our efforts and ingenuity into ‘striving to be free’, which is what ‘trying to improve our situation’ really comes down to. The possibility of ‘improving our situation,’ is – as we have said – the outcome that the thinking mind keeps tempting us with. When we fall for this temptation (as we always do fall!) then this is the very same thing as what we have called ‘identifying with the self-concept’ and this utterly ubiquitous business of ‘identifying with the self-concept’ is – as we have just pointed out – the precise thing that absolutely guarantees we shall never be free…

 

 

Image: Street Art Phuket Town